Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pew Warmers In The Grace Of God

"A graceless Calvinist is a guy who knows how a car works but who's never driven through the countryside in the warm spring air with the top down and the wind blowing through his hair." -Jared Wilson, The Gospel-Driven Church, in response to a pastor's remark about some folks getting sucked into "that Reformed theology."

Jared "gently" concludes his argument about graceless Calvinists, "The problem is not the Reformed theology, as many free-willers suspect, not the Calvinism. No, the problem is gospel wakefulness (which crosses theological systems and traditions). Or the lack thereof."

In my service as a worship leader, much discussion is had about the perpetual pew warmer. Pastors want to "fire them up" and get them contributing to the life of the church in one form of service or another. The pastor is sure they are believers, and can't figure out why they never help in anyway at all. Even with inspiring worship and preaching, nothing seems to get through to them. Isn't this all the same problem?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Are You Ready?

One need only spend a short time watching or listening to Christian broadcasts to learn that many believe this mountain of Megeddo will soon be a very busy place. Of course, the cinemas are depicting the end times as the year 2012, rapidly approaching, which is the end date of the Mayan calendar; as the Mayans read the alignment of the planets with the galactic center of the Milky Way. It is certainly a great achievement of the Mayans to understand the rotation of the planets and the wobble of the earth on it's axis. That alone should cause everyone to take notice of their ingenuity. Few people even understand how early civilizations could grasp something as difficult as the planetary rotation cycles in relation to the galactic center.

Jesus makes it clear in the gospels that he doesn't want us to be unaware of the end times, as does Paul. But one must wonder what difference it is actually supposed to make in our lives. It is almost a given that at the conclusion of any "end times" broadcast the question will be asked, "Are you ready for the Lord to return?" Is this the reason we have been taught about the end times?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

God Is In Control???

Home-grown terrorist Nidal Hassan stunned the country this week with the carnage at Fort Hood Army Base. How can a sovereign God allow this type of carnage to exist? Is God really in control, or is man's free will an irritation that God has to work around? For that matter, how can a loving God allow events like Katrina, the tsunami, 9.11, and now this horror in Texas, to even happen. It hardly seems that the "Kingdom" is at hand. What possible good can come from these events? It would seem that God is taking too many days off, and the efforts of the saints to declare Christ are only hampered by these events. Kingdom building seems set back every time God drops the ball and something ungodly happens.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Modern Warfare

"Prayerlessness is an expression of our meager confidence in God’s ability to provide and of our strong confidence in our ability to take care of ourselves without God’s help." - Kevin DeYoung, The Gospel Coalition

Kevin tugs at the very crux of Gospel living. Do we really see how we need a savior every day? To be self absorbed, self sufficient, independent, is to be our own savior, the most deadly of sins.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Grace, First and Decisive

John Piper posted this a couple of days ago at Desiring God. It's just too good for a link. (In it's entirety), Piper writes:

Sometimes readers of the Bible see the conditions that God lays down for his blessing and they conclude from these conditions that our action is first and decisive, then God responds to bless us.

That is not right.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Proof of Grace

Faith is often thought of as "believing in something we cannot see," or "believing in God." That's almost become the textbook definition, even to an unbeliever. The discussion gets interesting though, when we talk about "saving faith" being more than just believing something exist. We've heard it a thousand times, that even the devil believes there's a God. So the manuscripts lead us to the word "believing" meaning trusting, relying in Him.

But we were talking about faith. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and conviction of things not seen." (Heb 11:1) Things that we hope for; the empty tomb, eternal life, transformation to glorification, having peace in a fallen world, and more, are all a done deal. We are certain. We are sure. There's no doubt. End of story.

So is there such thing as "saving faith?" I think "faith" covers it all. And it was free. A gift from God. (Rom 12:3) Proof of grace to all who have it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

In John 13, Jesus washes the feet of His disciples, sits down for the Passover Feast, predicts his betrayal by Judas, as well as Peter's failures, then we read in 14:1, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me" (or "You believe in God, believe also in me".) He continues on with the beautiful 'many mansions' teaching, and His "Way, Truth, and Life" teaching, and much, much more. Verse one has slipped by so quickly it almost seems dwarfed by the rest of the chapter, and the passion chapters to come, but it is imperative that the disciples "get" vs. 1 if they are going to understand His teachings and be able to cope with Jesus' departure from the scene. And it's where we find ourselves in this present age, too.

Wesley comments, "14:1 Let not your heart be troubled - At my departure. Believe - This is the sum of all his discourse, which is urged till they did believe, John 16:30. And then our Lord prays and departs." Jesus spends 3 Chapters convincing His disciples to believe in Him, just as they believe in God. Why was it so crucial at this point for them to finally "get it?" Jesus was about to gift the world with the greatest love ever given it, and they had to know who it was giving it.

Living the Gospel means understanding that apart from knowing the love of Christ, our hearts are indeed troubled. The Gospel of Mark uses the words "fear not" scores of times. As little children, our parents raised us to one day be able to handle life on our own, take care of ourselves, get married and raise our own family. But no matter how successful we might think we are at life, inside we are all afraid, all insecure, and forever throwing up defenses to the world to try and protect that wounded spot in our heart. Growing up and coping with life tends to mean: How well can we hide our insecurities and not let them interfere with our lives? We use defenses like control, anger, selfishness, and pride. We so desperately want to feel good about ourselves. We do anything and everything looking for something, but we don't know what we are looking for. We'll buy anything that Madison Avenue says will make our life better, because we know there is something better to life. Even born-again Christians fall prey to this type of thinking, if not presented with a gospel that says "Live me everyday!"

The answer is the rest of the vs., "Trust in God; trust also in me." When we are trusting God for not only our eternal security, but for our daily bread, we come out of ourselves, and open our hearts to Christ and the love He demonstrated. His love fills our troubled hearts, Jesus validates us like we never can, and life makes sense. And God does indeed provide our daily bread, and so much more. Our will becomes His will, out of our love for Him, and the daily grace of faith becomes more powerful then any nearby mountain. When we rely on God, not ourselves, the peace of Christ is a reality, not just a cliche, because we have no fear of failure. We learn through our experiences that all things really do work together for good for those that love the Lord. And worshipping Him, needing more of Him and His grace becomes a thirst. Such as a deer at the running brook, we know we cannot live without Him.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Worship and the Gospel; Christ Centered Worship

"ChristianityToday" online edition has a great interview with Bryan Chapell author of "Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice" concerning true Christ Centered worship and it's direct relationship with the gospel. Here's an excerpt:

What is—and is not—Christ-centered worship?

Christ-centered worship is not just talking or singing about Jesus a lot. Christ-centered worship reflects the contours of the gospel. In the individual life of a believer, the gospel progresses through recognition of the greatness and goodness of God, the acknowledgment of our sin and need of grace, assurance of God's forgiveness through Christ, thankful acknowledgment of God's blessing, desire for greater knowledge of him through his Word, grateful obedience in response to his grace, and a life devoted to his purposes with assurance of his blessing.

In the corporate life of the church this same gospel pattern is reflected in worship. Opening moments offer recognition of the greatness and goodness of God that naturally folds into confession, assurance of pardon, thanksgiving, instruction, and a charge to serve God in response to his grace in Christ. This is not a novel idea but, in fact, is the way most churches have organized their worship across the centuries. Only in recent times have we lost sight of these gospel contours and substituted pragmatic preferences for Christ-centered worship. My goal is to re-acquaint the church with the gospel-shape of its worship so that we are united around Christ's purposes rather than arguing about stylistic preferences.

Read the whole article here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Grace And Works

From a comment I've read at Internet Monk comes this great explanation. There's no trackback link to contact the author, but I've a feeling she won't mind.

An easy diagram to explain (and picture) how grace and works go together is basically a circular diagram. If one starts out on the wrong part of the circle, we see how legalism works. But if one starts out on the right part of it, we see how it all works together.

Imagine a compass and the four cardinal directions. North is “God”, East is “Grace”, South is “Love” and West is “Perform”. In between are arrows pointing clockwise between the cardinal points.

The Legalistic understanding of the relationship of grace and works starts out on the West point with “Perform”. Thus, we try to “Do” or demonstrate our righteousness to curry God’s favor. This is self-righteousness. [As preached, it is the admonition to obey the bible, and thus be choosing grace.]

The gospel understanding starts at North with “God”. He declared us righteous through Christ. The arrow pointing from North to East “Grace” shows us that the act of justification is “Done” and we have “passive righteousness”. From Grace, an arrow points to South “Love”. Here we understand what Paul says that faith is by grace alone. But, we get to the South point and we see that Christ’s love for us compels us to perform for him. And as we follow the arrow from south to west we understand what James says about faith without works being dead. And so any righteous works we do are not to curry God’s favor, but instead are a response to the great grace we have received. I guess the bottom line is motivation. God is repulsed by the motivation of actions when they are self-righteous rather than motivations that are expressions of our love for the God who loved us first.

[So how can obedience to the bible (and the Lord) be preached? It needs to begin with the Gospel, not end with it. Worth noting is that in Al Mohler's article, Ray Ortland's article, Michael Spencer's article, and John Piper's article, all about legalism and gospel transformation, (all posted/linked below), little mention is even given to "obedience", but rather our natural reaction to God's awesome gifts in Christ.]

Saturday, September 19, 2009

New Calvinists?

John Piper, Collin Hansen, and Carolyn James discussed “the New Calvinists” on September 11 at the Religious Newswriters Association’s annual convention. The panel was hosted by Julia Duin of the Washington Times.

Desiring God has footage of that panel in 4 parts: 3 sets of introductory remarks (one from each panelist) and the Q&A time with reporters that followed. As more becomes available, we'll link to it. What's so new about "New"? Find out.

Friday, September 18, 2009

How Grace Changes Us

Ray Ortlund relates this story:

Are we to continue in sin, that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1)

Johann Tetzel was a Dominican monk who went around sixteenth-century Germany selling indulgences. He used a little song: "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!" So a thief came up to him one day and asked how much it would cost for an indulgence to cover all his past sins. "A thousand gold pieces." "And how much to forgive all my future sins?" "Two thousand more." "All right, here's three thousand. Give me the indulgence." "Here it is. Thank you." "Now here's one of those future sins. See this knife? Hand back the three thousand."

Ray explains the grace in Romans 6 masterfully here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why Moralism Is Not The Gospel

Albert Mohler writes at AlbertMohler.com:

"But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, he is to be accursed!" [Gal. 1:6-7]

This warning from the Apostle Paul, expressed in the language of the Apostle's shock and grief, is addressed not only to the church in Galatia, but to every congregation in every age. In our own day -- and in our own churches -- we desperately need to hear and to heed this warning. In our own time, we face false gospels no less subversive and seductive than those encountered and embraced by the Galatians.

In our own context, one of the most seductive false gospels is moralism. This false gospel can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this -- the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.

Sadly, this false gospel is particularly attractive to those who believe themselves to be evangelicals motivated by a biblical impulse. Far too many believers and their churches succumb to the logic of moralism and reduce the Gospel to a message of moral improvement. In other words, we communicate to lost persons the message that what God desires for them and demands of them is to get their lives straight."

- Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., serves as the ninth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary-the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world. -

Read his whole post, how moralism presents a false gospel to a fallen world, even while realizing we are obligated to teach the truth as presented in God's word.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Gospel-Believing Christian In The Midst of Legalism

"...Legalism is often a manifestation of being deprived of preaching and teaching that clearly explains the Gospel. Millions of evangelicals sit under largely Gospel-less preaching, and hear thousands of sermons on legalism and moralism in their lifetimes. As a result, they have an actual aversion to the Gospel, and are offended when the Bible’s actual teaching about legalism is proclaimed. As scripture says, these persons stumble in offense at the preaching of Christ, but eagerly embrace the categories and works of law. Law is simply easier to understand and makes sense when you have not been taught that the Gospel is for all of life and is the engine of everything Christians do. Preachers who starve a flock from eating the feast of the Gospel, but feed them the gruel of legalism, are particularly to be avoided. Pity the starving flocks, and fear for the shepherds who would not feed them." - from "Gospel Believing Christians in the Midst of Legalism" - Michael Spencer, aka The Internet Monk

Read the full and revealing post here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Gospel Transformation

If our spiritual goal for maturity is to "sin less" then we will be forever frustrated. With a goal of sinning less, then the tendency is to come up with a way to rate our spiritual progress by "obedience to the bible" or "service to others" or "more quiet time" or anything that we think should result in less sin. We then do things that show our maturity, but we end up with a simple immature self-righteousness from the things we "do", and have no power over our sinful nature, and na-da in the "transformation" department. In fact, as over time God puts the spotlight on our real sinful nature, instead of sinning less, we find we are riddled with sin, actually appearing to sin MORE! All we can do then, is to rationalize our view of God down to size, and our view of ourselves UP, with our own self-righteousness, using the very sinful thinking that the gospel has saved us from. It's a "lose-lose" way to "do religion", and that's all it is; religion that even a non-believer can see is no religion at all, as we are just the same old selfish person we always were. We only fool ourselves, and are believing our own lies! That's why they call it denial.

Our goal for maturity has to be gospel transformation - turning from sin, and putting faith in Christ. Repentance and faith. Just like the gospel. The very gospel that saved us eternally, keeps saving us (from ourselves). Sin in itself is rooted in idolatry. At the moment we sin we are seeking to place our trust in something other then Jesus. We need to realize sin is sin, and confess it, but we can't just say to ourselves, "I need to stop this lying, or prideful thinking, or immoral activity." We need to ASK what is inside of me, what idol, that is telling me that I trust it, or need it, more than Jesus. The sin we commit is only the action or reaction that comes from our wrong thinking, and is a separate part, the ill fruit, of our wrong thinking. If we look inside, we find that often the idol behind sin is self centeredness or a desire to be in control. We need to keep asking (Paul reminds us to seek humility) until we see inside of us just what it is that we think (wrongly) is more important to us then trusting in Christ. How often is it just ourselves, our own high regard for us, in the way? Yet even high "self-regard" is often just more sin, just another smoke screen to the real problem. We need to keep asking. Dig deeper still.

The Gospels, especially Mark, are loaded with the command "not to be afraid". We are all riddled with fear deep inside, when we are apart from the Gospel of Jesus. Looking inward and asking "What is our idol?" often reveals that we are going for the "quick fix" to validate ourselves, to get us through our insecurities, our messed up lives, rather then letting the love of God, as given by Jesus on the cross, be our validation. In the gospels Jesus heals, then he says, "Your sins are forgiven." We are all broken inside, wicked and depraved, frightfully fearful, and the more mature a Christian we become, the more we see it, and the more we see our need of HIM to heal us and to validate us by his love, rather than do it ourselves. Only through Christ and his cross are we truly freed from sin. When we see our trust put back in Him, our humble true dependence for our daily bread put on him, then our thinking changes, and only then can our behavior do likewise. By faith in Him, actually trusting Him, we come to realize that he really is changing us, and helping where we can't do it alone. It's a grace by which our only response can be to worship Him with all our hearts, all our might. It's how we can do all things in the name of him who saved us, giving him the glory.

So transformation might be as the nominalist says, "Not that important." Or as the pacifist says, "I need to surrender, just let go, and let God." or the legalist says, "I need to just learn and obey the bible." But all these ways of thought are barriers to transformation, and are the way to self righteousness, not the imputed righteousness of Christ. Paul says put to death the things of the world and put on virtues, seeking humility and love. Wrap ourselves in Christ with our minds on things above. When we imitate Christ, seek his humility, we begin to discover how we need healing inside, and only his love can heal us, and only his gospel forgives us and frees us, and transforms us. Minimizing, surrendering, or obeying are all band-aids on the wrong wound.

So the sign of a mature Christian? An exponentially deepening understanding of how badly we need Christ and forgiveness every day. With this the fruits will come.

Provocations and Pantings has an Aug 30th post on Bob Thune's gospel transformation series for those interested. You will need iTunes to play them. Above is only a very brief summary. Thune, nephew of Senator John Thune of S. Dakota and lead pastor of Coram Deo Church in Omaha, presented this series a few years ago at a college retreat, and it is very easy to understand.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gospel Driven Leadership

Jared Wilson, author of "Your Jesus Is Too Safe", responds in an interview on gospel driven leadership, "There's nothing more freeing for pastoral leadership than the gospel. Be in awe of it. Be transformed by it. If you don't know what I'm talking about, consider a different vocation. The gospel is the power of salvation for all who believe, and if you have not experienced personal transformation by it, all your talky talky will just be theoretical advice and dramatic posturing."

Read his full post HERE.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Grace Based Humilty

"Call it a paradox, if you wish, but it is biblical and historical. Deep, humble dependence on the sovereign grace of God has produced world-changing achievements. Thousands have said with the apostle Paul in Col. 1:29, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” This is not ego-exalting pride; this is Jesus-exalting faith."

John Piper explains gospel humilty in a great online sermon. Remember when most Christians at least tried to depend on Christ?

Read or listen to his whole sermon here.

You can sign up for his emails, too.

Friday, August 28, 2009

What Is Gospel Centered?

The Internet Monk yesterday posted inquiring of the 2 or 3 year old "Gospel-Centered" movement. He asks some valid questions and got some good responses worth looking at, for those so disposed. Here is my comment on being gospel centered. My question is "Are we?"

As a practicer and not a preacher, I can only comment ‘from the pew’ that living Gospel centered to me means that as I struggle with my “self” thinking and worldliness throughout the week, it gets easier because Christ’s work means I don’t have to carry the “guilt” of failure with me, and His grace DOES transform me. Unbelievers can learn to try and be virtuous, but will always end up compromising their virtues at the point where “guilt” stops them. At one point, an unbeliever has to say, “Well this is okay to do, okay to be just this self-centered and worldly” even when it’s not, because to be anymore virtuous and fail consistantly would bring guilt. They reconcile themself to the self-seeking (sinful) world, and are at peace (sic) with it. The freedom in Christ is that we don’t have the weight of guilt to stop us from going farther and becoming more like Christ in an upside down world. We are reconciled to Him, not the world. We focus on Him instead of ourselves and go where unbelievers cannot go. And trusting in Him there is true peace. Sounds elementary, but so few Christians are actually letting Christ transform them as a lifelong thing.

So gospel centered preaching would by and large NOT be a 40 minute thumping on trueisms from the bible on how to live our life by stopping our sinning, without giving equal time to the gospel reasons that we can and will only through Him succeed and always improve in Godly living. It separates our “obedience” from Christ’s work on the cross. Gospel centered preaching gives hope not condemnation. And that is entirely different then just being a good “bible centered” message. We want to obey the bible because it expresses our love, not just to keep the rules, and we thirst for all things Christ, as keeping our eyes on Him is our passion, instead of looking at ourselves. We depend on Him, not ourselves for our daily bread. You’d be suprised how many preachers preach the bible without preaching hope. Gospel centeredness is a correction of the wrong thinking of many faithful bible believers and preachers that wed obedience to faith as co-partners eliminating Jesus’ work on our behalf. Obedience should be wed to love.

My hope is that it helps the drifting church. The Reformed seem to be the first ones to make it Vogue, but it should really unite everyone, as it is the power of God for the saving of souls, and I don’t see it exclusive for any doctrinal reasons. It’s the same Gospel for all.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Joe Thorn, from Redeemer Fellowship in Chicago gives the perfect description of the Gospel, and "Gospel Centrality" in our lives and church, and what it will mean for us. Click here for the post.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

This Big

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation’s revealing Your majesty
From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untamable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go
Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow
Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light
Yet conceals it to bring us the coolness of night
None can fathom

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name
You are amazing God
All powerful, untamable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

You are amazing God

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Weak Worship

(An excert from The Thinklings blog).

The true diagnosis of weak worship is not that our people are coming to get and not to give. Not a few pastors scold their people that the worship services would be lively if people came to give instead of to get.

There is a better diagnosis. People ought to come to corporate worship services to get. They ought to come starved for God. They ought to come saying, "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God" (Psalm 42:1). God is profoundly honored when people know that they will die of hunger and thirst unless they have God. And it is my job as a preacher to spread a banquet for them. I must show them from Scripture what they are really starving for -- God -- and then feed them well until they say, "Ahhh." That is worship.

-- John Piper, The Dangerous Duty of Delight

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Really Big God

Scientists have learned more about the expanding universe, thanks to many things, including Hubble. They have come to the conclusion that the universe is indeed expanding, as Einstein has proved, and at an ever increasing speed. In fact, the galaxies out at the edges of the universe have now passed the speed of light. We will never see them, we just know they are there. And what's so wonderfully magnificent, is that it is only the space between galaxies that is expanding. Any object that is interacting with another object through gravity is completely excused from the very principal of an expanding universe. Our planets are not expanding from the sun, our stars in our galaxy are not expanding away from each other in anyway other then the normal centrifugal or gravitation forces which are called for in the normal realm of science. If galaxies are being attracted to or repelled from each other in clusters, as many are, those normal laws of physics still apply. But as the universe expands, in galaxies that are no longer interacting with each other, the space between them expands. And at an ever increasing speed.

So here on earth we know that if a spaceship is racing ever faster towards another star, time slows as it approaches the speed of light, and Einstein has concluded that at the speed of light, time stops, and the craft will cease to exist; therefore faster then light travel is impossible. But on the galaxies at the fringes of the universe that travel faster than the speed of light, as if in a wave, were an astronaut to have hopped on a planet before it were across the light speed barrier, he would find on that planet that everything was normal. Time would be normal, apples would still fall to ground, the sun would still rise and set, there would be no notice that one was speeding through the universe beyond the speed of light, an unfathomable speed. Total and complete empty space moving it along, pushing it, pulling it, safely guiding it along through the fabrics of space, at a speed we can't even comprehend. It's happening right now out there in the universe, and it's the "still accelerating" that blows my mind.

I've no doubt scientists will zero in on the physics and mathematical formulas that make this possible, and try to replicate faster than light travel. They are trying now, even as we speak, and don't seemed to notice the enormity of what is happening. I'm sure the formula will read something like: G=O=D. The big bang theory brought them closer, but "the God" notion in that theory really irked Einstein. Maybe this next new equation will make it obvious even to a scientific thinker.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Thursday, July 2, 2009

God's Grace In All It's Truth

In Paul's greeting to the Colossians he tells them (from vs 3-5) that he thanks God for them, and thanks God that the gospel is spreading; and among them too, ( from vs 6) "since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all it's truth."

I will remember forever my first encounter with God's grace, five children and 25 years ago. I'd been churched as a kid, but like so many, carried teenage rebellion to the sinful max, finally settling down to married life. I debated several years about going to church, even after my wife had begun taking our firstborn on a weekly pilgrimage to the local evangelical establishment. I enjoyed the quiet of them gone on Sundays, too. After limited involvement, including pot-lucks, singing in the cantata, etc., I responded to the repeated invitation (and prayers, I later found out) of a fellow I now love, and I began attending.

A year or so passed. I certainly felt "churched" again. If believing in Jesus meant he had paid for my sins so I could go to heaven, I was all for it. I like plans, and this seemed like a real good plan. He does all the work, and I get all the gain. Plus I really felt it was good for the kids, and we were becoming a respectable part of the community. Life made sense, and things were going pretty good for me.

Well, one day at church, we were singing a kind of simple song, but a tear fell from my eye, and it surprised me! And for about 30 seconds I was actually crying! I composed myself, rather embarrassed that I was attracting attention, but only a few people noticed.

After we got home, I told my wife that a felt really weird, and I was going to go back in the bedroom for a while and sit down. I went and picked up my bible, which had been a gift, and opened it up to Matthew, intent on taking a look at it. But I couldn't. The tears were falling all over the pages, as I cried my heart out. What a fool I'd been! The Lord of the universe was pouring his grace all over me, opening my eyes. The only real exact words I remember thinking were, "O my God, I can't believe you chose me." I had never known humility until that moment, I knew there was so much more to learn, but now I saw the world upside down the way Christ saw it, knew he would help me change my life and my way of thinking, and I knew I would never be the same again. I was awake reading my bible for nearly 2 nights in a row, too excited to sleep, knowing that the God of the universe had touched me in such an awesome way.

The pastor and associate pastor had invited me to stop by the church on Wednesday, wanted to "check-in with me, they do that," they had said. I was so glad! I wanted to tell someone who would understand what had happened to me! I was like a kid after a winning a home game as I told them all about it. It was an incredible story and they were so happy for me! I know I was in tears through some of it, too. We laughed and prayed together, I real "pastoral" moment. And when I asked them what they wanted to talk about, having invited me in the first place, they said that they were starting up a worship team, and actually just wanted to make sure I was a born-again believer before they invited me! We laughed some more... God was in control.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Does Doctrine Matter? Aka, Promise Keepers Tries Again

Is church structure really that important? Is "what we believe", our differing doctrines, really that important? Aren't we all united in Christ by trusting Him for His righteousness; that it is indeed "finished?"

Paul very carefully set up the church to survive into the 21st century by encouraging preacher Timothy to "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Tim 4:16) and again to the leaders of the Ephesians church before setting off for Jerusalem, "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)

In other words, keep watch over 1) yourselves and your own doctrine, and keep watch over 2) your flock and their doctrine. This seems to be the smallest common denominator that Paul set up. A pastor and his flock united in doctrine, as Paul taught that doctrine. Outside of a public family church, there is no consideration. Read the passages before and after these verses, and it only reinforces this thinking. "Believe my teaching, and make sure your whole flock believes the same thing," is what Paul seems to be telling us.

So now, the big denominations and theologies come into play. Churches will split over doctrine. That would be biblical, if then each new flock and pastor (or groups) were again united in their understanding of Paul's (Jesus') teachings. Are the different understandings still blessed by God? Of course, when they are both biblical in a God approved "gospel" sense. There's not only one true denomination to which all must conform, thanks to the Reformation. Paul didn't set up a universal church with ONE interpretation of his (Jesus') teachings that we all must conform to or perish. (The pope didn't necessarily have a lock on it.) Paul set up churches that met for his teaching (doctrine) publicly, and house to house, (Acts 20:20). Everything above and beyond that, or less then that, we seem to have set up.

So within denominations, each church conforms to what the greater group believes, or splits and forms it's own denomination. That's biblical, as mentioned above. God has set up a family church where he can reach all within that family church by inspiring the leadership of that family church. Everyone stays on the same page. It seems a most efficient system to me. They can be part of a larger denomination of like-minded believers, or not. There seems to be no smaller unit then the 'public' unit, though. We are in it together, at the least as a single church united in doctrine.

Case in point: Look what happened to Promise Keepers in 10 years (though they are not a church). All sorts of different doctrines uniting to build up the faith just doesn't work, regardless of where their hearts are, how good their intentions are. It's not biblical, just a movement, and not blessed for the building up of the church and the saving of souls. This year they will have one conference, women are invited, so the original purpose of the movement has died, they are inviting all to come whether they can afford it or not "We'll let you in for free, we'll feed you for free, just get registered." says co-founder coach Bill "Mac" McCartney. Don't they hear the shot across their bow? If they are going to try and build faith with no agreement on doctrine, then this latest effort will fail, too. Faith building and spreading the gospel is done amongst like-minded Christians. Otherwise you have pea soup. McCartney doesn't get it. He promises an experience with God at the conference, as if God will be coerced into showing up. He would be more honest to just promise an experience. An "experience" can easily be delivered.

Just ask Joel Osteen, who is Lakewood Church. Osteen says he doesn't like talking about sin because it makes people uncomfortable. I imagine "uncomfortable" interferes with experience building as he sees it. All righty then. If all inclusive faith-building is not biblical, and it's not, then Joel, a remarkable man, and sadly, his church, will get their comeuppance soon enough. I await the day. It will encourage the true church, as set up by the apostles.

In the mean time; believers, unite around the doctrine of your church and leaders. Or go where you can do that. And leaders, listen to what the Holy Spirit is telling you- as your faith and doctrine goes, so goes your flock "which He bought with His own blood." (Acts 20:28) That's an awesome responsibility. God blesses and moves churches that are united in beliefs, regardless of where they fall on the Calvin/Arminian scale, and only if the beliefs of those churches through their leadership is acceptable to Him. That's actually pretty inclusive. The bible and Holy Spirit, using great scholars, have given us the apostles' teachings, whom seem to have settled on just a few main theologies, that are acceptable to God. We all fall somewhere within them, if it's the true apostles teachings, and not our own, as in Osteen. Having a shallow understanding of the teaching / doctrine in order to be "all inclusive" is the aforementioned pea-soup, and doomed by default. Movements will fail, churches will fail, but God is in charge, doesn't change, and He won't fail.

And I hate to say it, but it's not the bible's teaching interpreted by me that unites us and launches an Acts 2 church. It was the devotion to the apostles' teaching and the peoples response to that true gospel in Acts 2:42 that launched the church, and puts us on the "apostles" page, not our own. Let's unite around their understandings, and keep our own understandings submissive, and we'll be out of God's way. Picking out our own doctrine leads to just another movement of man, and that leads nowhere. Just watch TBN and you'll see what I mean. They've added a lot to, and taken a lot away from the gospel, and they will eventually pay for the damage to the church. It affects us all, tempts us all to compromise, and who is the tempter? Have mercy on your church, O Lord.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thank God We Have Christ

Thank God we have Christ.

"...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23)

We all agree with this, in that because we've sinned, we aren't worthy to be with God, apart from Christ- and that IS very true. But that's not all it's telling us. It tells us what sin is. Usually we read the text and at the word "and" we break the sentence into two separate thoughts, but they are one. "For all (that's me...) have sinned (what's sin?) and fall short (lack) of the glory of God." (I have sinned, I lack the glory of God). We lack the glory of God. Then what is sin? Sin is anything that isn't the glory of God. That's the whole world we live in. Is this too much of a leap? Consider this-

"...and everything that does not come from faith is sin." (Rom 14:23)

We glorify God, and don't sin, when what we do gives Him the glory, from the greatest tasks to the least tasks. That means a humility to the 'nth degree. Complete utter reliance on God for all things (faith), so He gets the credit. If it comes through faith, it isn't sin. If it comes through US, it is sin. So,

"...whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31)

Doing something in faith means all the excellence we can muster on our own, and in faith completely relying on God for the results (humility), so all the credit goes to God, and He gets the glory. Whether we are washing dishes, digging a ditch, raising children, governing a country, or working in ministry, it's all the excellence we can muster, in faith relying on God so He gets the glory, not us. That's God's way. Any other way is sin. So we can sin when we wash the dishes. (Or work in ministry). Whew.

Thank God we have Christ.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Are We Upside Down Yet?

“Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away. And those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit they are weak and lost.”

Timothy Keller- "Gospel Christianity"

Sunday, June 14, 2009

4 Views On Eternal Security

Matthew Pinson has a book through the Zondervan "Counterpoint" series that features four theologians' view on eternal security; the once saved, always saved / perseverance of the saints debate. The contributors are all prestigious alumni of various universities and present the Classical Calvinist, Moderate Calvinist, Reformed Arminian, and Wesleyan Arminian views. It's an interesting read to say the least, though thank goodness there's a glossary.

What I found most interesting were their areas of agreement. First and foremost, they all agreed that holy men will long be disagreeing over salvation, and being Brothers in Christ, they expected to see each other together in heaven one day and find out the real answers. Secondly, I was very interested that each one presented their theory in it's abbreviated entirety, beginning with all that they believe about God, that He has revealed about Himself in Holy Scripture, as it is what the principals understood about God and his characteristics that shaped their theory of His plan for salvation as they interpreted His Word. And thirdly, they all seemed to agree that you have to use Calvin, Arminius, and Wesley, and what they wrote and how they interpreted scripture, and not any of the many writers that came after them, as too many have tried to interpret and reinterpret them, and improve on them, until there are all the countless denominations and countless understandings we have now.

I found myself sympathizing with each of the 'big four' theories, and see no way it will be resolved anytime soon! And no, I'm not wishy-washy by nature. I have always leaned toward Calvin, but hearing Wesley's personalization of the gospel was very interesting. I've a new respect for open-mindedness, and we'll leave it at that.

My own experience with Christ has shown me that perseverance is the only way, regardless of whether my salvation is at stake, so it's all a mute point to me, anyway. Let's face it, my life is so crazy, I'd be lost without Christ (no pun intended)!

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Acts Church II

A good friend called this weekend and asked me about last week's post on the Acts Church. "How did I know they were immersed in the gospel, when it doesn't actually say that?" In case anyone else wondered about that, my response in brief, was that they were "devoted to the apostle's teaching." And everything else they were devoted to is their obvious response to the gospel. We know the apostles preached the gospel, as they were witnesses to it, we have the gospels that they wrote, and all their epistles. It would have been an exciting time to be a Christian.

The question for us now is: How can we realize this same type of church?

I believe the key is for us to realize just the right eschatology (God's final plans). Many Christians that under-realize God's plan still see mankind lost in sin, total depravity, and leave it all at the cross each week at church. Horton describes them as (1) "utterly indifferent to God's presence" in worship. Christians and churches with this under-realized eschatology tend to be very traditional, maintenance organizations, with little or no ministry inclinations, and may be safe in their salvation but missing out on the joy of the gospel. Boy, do I know a few people and churches like this!

Then there is to over-realize the end times. These believers are living as if the Lord has already had his second coming, are living totally in "ministry" mode, are busy building the New Jerusalem, and have no use whatsoever for the cross. They actually are very immature Christians who will topple and fall when trials come their way. (Been there, done that.) So what is the middle ground?

In reality, we are living in an age where both the old age before the cross and Resurrection, and the new age to come at His Second Coming are intersecting. The world is still lost in sin, but the Holy Spirit has come, and by grace, some of us have been saved. Our Christian experience is caught up in both ages, for now. Our Savior rules over this Age of Grace, so to speak, not yet the Age of Glory, at His second coming.

So what's the implication of living in this present age of grace? The right perspective will keep us centered on Christ and His cross, yet empowered by the Holy Spirit. This seems pretty elementary, but it is the crux of what is happening to the Body of Christ. Too many Christians are leaving the gospel message behind, and finding new ways to satisfy their souls, ministries, services, and outreaches, that are powerless. New gospels of prosperity and self-help, to name a couple. And seeker sensitive services that lack the gospel that de-sensitize the church, or just plain inward looking faith and worship services that reflect what we want, or what we think God wants, or an indifference to the mission that we have been trusted with, to name a few more. The whole traditional / contemporary worship debate is rooted in these two wrong eschatologies.

The proper "Christian walk" doesn't lead from the cross to the resurrection to the end times in a horizontal walk, but leads deeper into the center, knowing more and more about righteousness, how we need it, don't have it, and use Christ's righteousness in the face of our hopeless condition. And with His righteousness we can do all things. It's the "power" of the gospel. If our walk with Christ walks from faith into ministry, as in a line, then we miss the maturity of really knowing Him beyond the "buddy" stage. We need to really know Him, and worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. That's something we can't do without Him. Ministry and worship will naturally flow out of our proper understanding of Christ, and really knowing Him.

(1) M. Horton A Better Way p. 134
(And no, I'm not bashing Calvin when I mention "depravity." My guess is that he would agree with me.)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

What Goes Around...

Pyromaniacs quotes Charles Spurgeon in an appeal for mature Christians titled "Ripe Fruit," preached August 14, 1870: "We are assailed by all sorts of new doctrines. The old faith is attacked by so-called reformers, who would reform it all away. I expect to hear tidings of some new doctrine once a week. So often as the moon changes, some prophet or other is moved to propound a new theory, and believe me, he will contend more valiantly for his novelty than ever he did for the gospel."

Nothing changes much, does it?

The Acts Church

The "Acts" church is often spoke of and preached about, and emulated, because of the great success the early church had in adding thousands (even in one day) to the flock. The description used most often is Acts 2:42-47, where the community devoted themselves to these things- the apostles' teaching, the fellowship, communion, prayer, everything in common, meeting daily in the temple courts, and meeting in their homes, and praising God. And God- did miraculous signs and wonders and added to their numbers everyday.

Let's note that the scripture before and after this is a 3rd person narrative, complete with a timeline of events. It reads like a daily blog of what was happening. Peter did this; then this happened; one day Peter and John... ; while the beggar did this; Peter said this; etc. And right in the middle of this 'narrative' is this little picture of the church that is NOT in a timeline narrative. Most bibles put it in it's own paragraph. Some even indent it since the style completely changes for these 7 verses, before returning to the 3rd person narrative story line. The narrator (Luke) stops his narrative and gives us a snapshot of this ideal community of God. What I want to note now is what is NOT mentioned in these verses about an ideal church. (I'll be careful...)

Not said is: "and all the people planted their seed offerings", "they named it and claimed it", "they had their Best Life Now", "and the people picked out a needy ministry to serve in from the weekly bulletin", "and the worship team was excellent". Enough?

Now, these verses are a narrative. Luke switches from an actual timetable of events where he is talking about specific people, to talking about everyone together (They) and time is basically standing still as he is describing the church..."They devoted themselves...and God did this...". But if I may for a minute call it a 'poem', (in that we know there were some difficulties in the early church, troubles with the care of widows, not to mention all the Epistles written to correct people.) So Luke's poem allows us to see a vision of the perfect church. And what do we see?

The people were absolutely immersed in the Gospel. Drenched in it, slaves to it, filled to the point of running over, deeply committed to everything the Gospel called them to, bathed in it, saturated in it, and sold out to it. (And God did His thing, too.) And since this early time, people have tried to help God and add to what God is doing- more ministry, more worship teams, more books, more ways to pray, more tricks and promotions to "grow the flock". Are these things wrong? Not necessarily, when they are used as another way to drench us in the Gospel. But inventions by men are just simple powerless devices. God uses only the Gospel to attract, convict, justify, and transform. That's all He needs. We need to stay out of His way, and just obey and live the Gospel. God will do the rest. Francis Chan asks us if we can pray Proverbs 30:7-9 in this 2 minute video. It might rate us on all of the above.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Our Finite Wisdon

The conventional wisdom seems to be "Don't worry about other gospels, (prosperity, self-help, etc.) they won't affect the church, Christ's work will get done."  The more I think about this, the more I realize that it just isn't true. Christ was downright upset at what had become of His Father's temple and Law. Paul was really upset when people tried to change the gospel to suit their situations.

Having been involved quite deeply in music ministry, I know the pressure is put on you to provide a "good" service that will attract people, and please everyone. And it can easily be done, as long as you are willing to compromise the very Spirit that leads you. People don't want to admit on a weekly basis that their sinfulness, and everything about this life, would prevent them from even being in God's presence, were it not for the cross of Christ and the righteousness and worthiness Christ alone has earned us.

It's a joy to worship? Yes.  But what feeling of awe (fear) do we get when we come face to face with the most holy and perfect God, Creator of all things, and find that we are in need of Christ to even bear it?  It's not necessarily pleasant to face our own sinfulness and unworthiness. We know that God sees us white as snow, but if we see ourselves as white as snow, then who needs Christ? Never forgetting that it is only by His grace that we live, we can truly give thanks, and serve in our calling as His ambassador, knowing He will finish the work He began in us.

If we feel "good" at worship because it was good music and good teaching, and good friendships, then we have succeeded in making it a "good" Sunday. But what power is there in a good day that we have made? 

But if we worship with our eyes on the cross, and why we need it, He continues to sanctify us as we worship, we change because He changes us, and the power of the cross, God's power, makes it a good day, and we are a witness to that. 

If we begin to think that we are "good" and "sinning-less" people, mature Christians who rarely slip, then are we saying that we can usually give Christ His cross back? We don't need it anymore? We're walking the walk, not just talking the talk? Can we just have fun at worship, clap and shout for joy, and give thanks that our lives are getting better now, and avoid any thought of sin still being apart of our lives? That's a thought that is all about us, and how we see us, not all about God, and His holiness.

If we take our eyes off the cross, we loose the power of the cross in our lives, in our ministry, in our churches, and in the body of Christ.  Paul resolved to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified and concludes in 1 Cor 2:3-5 "I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." It's all about the power in the gospel, Christ and Him crucified, and our witness to that. It's not a "slick" worship service and feeling good about a Christian walk. God's power will fill a church; man's wisdom will empty it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Christless Christianity

Dr. Michael Horton (Associate Professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, Editor of Modern Reformation Magazine, Pres. of Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, host of White Horse Inn radio broadcast) in his upcoming book Christless Christianity, based on his lecture series of the same name, proposes that worship in American churches has turned away from the biblical view of Christ led worship, and instead is focused on us, the congregation. He proposes that we go to a busy (even mega) church for a list of things we can do (ministry), that we go to give God what we think he wants, and our churches are focused on US, not God. We seek the the emotional experience of being near God through fancy worship groups, and believe that experience to be worship. Statistics show that despite all the hoopla over modern worship, it is a dismal failure in that attendance is down 35%. He relates the experience at Willow Creek church where in spite of their influential position in evangelical circles, they have admitted that all of their ministry and outreach programs to build up the church have largely been ineffectual, and that one in four members is thinking of leaving the church, for lack of "being fed".

In the postmodern era we live in, we have made worship point upwards. God is the audience. We are the worshipers. Our worship rises to Him. Dr Horton proposes that this is exactly the wrong direction that worship should flow. The Greek word for "worship" is "called-in". His proposal is that God has called us together each Sunday so He can shower us with His grace, so we can repent and be forgiven, so God can give to us great gifts, and great news. God wants to smother us with His gospel, and get it deeper and deeper into us as we mature. What good news! Through the encouragement of others, through the Lord's supper, through our prayer and worship, and through the preaching of the gospel, He regenerates us with His Spirit, and continues to sanctify us. Just as Jesus washed the feet of the 12 at the Last Supper, so he wants to serve us, even to this day, at our weekly gathering. Jesus came 2000 years ago to serve us, and he continues to serve us, even to this day, and at our worship services in particular. He doesn't want us to serve HIM on Sundays, HE wants to serve us. The ministry of God flows downword to us and out to the world through us.

Dr. Horton completely backs up his thinking with scripture, and for that reason I am inclined to agree with his proposal. My own experience tells me that the sheep are not getting fed at church. In fact, often the sheep are told if they are not growing, then it is their own fault for not being responsible for there own growth. Three times the Lord said, "Peter, feed my sheep". To paraphrase Dr Horton, "Jesus said, I'm gonna die for these sheep, all I want you to do is feed them until I come back for them!".

For more info on Dr. Horton
For Michel Horton Books
For White Horse Inn Radio Broadcast Info

Friday, May 22, 2009

Toast With That Milk?

Last week while talking to a group of my Christian friends, I mentioned that Joel Osteen was not preaching the gospel, and they nearly went ballistic on me. My assertion was that Osteen, TBN, Inspiration Network, 700 Club, have all turned away from a gospel of salvation, and people don't even notice. The conventional wisdom about Osteen seems to be that he is a great speaker, and he explains Christianity in a way that people can relate to it.

Yesterday Jared Wilson's blog reminded me that "a healthy dose of being criticized, even hated, is honorable if they're criticizing or hating you because of your Jesus-fixation and gospel stubbornness." Jesus, in Luke 6:22-26, tells me to rejoice that "I'm hated" for my Gospel stubbornness, and Paul admonishes us to be mature in faith and learn righteousness and the difference between good and evil (Hebrews 5:11-14). If we are relating to Joel Osteen, aren't we still drinking milk, and in danger of falling away? 

Paul's list of what is "milk" is quite interesting! In Hebrews 6:1-2 he clearly calls instructions on baptism, repentance, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment things an immature Christian is still learning, and the elementary things of our faith. Where is Joel Osteen, and the rest of the postmodern church in this mix? Even MORE elementary! Before even saved, maybe? How can a mature Christian think J.O.'s message of "what to do so God will bless you" anything but a works based salvation. It's not about us, it's about how loving a God would care so much to want us back, and how He has already blessed us with everything we need in Christ Jesus.   


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

ABC 20/20 Show Prompts "Donor Alert"

MinistryWatch.com has given TBN an "F" for transparency, and sent out a "Donor Alert" urging donors to reconsider giving to this cash-flush ministry, due to their dishonest reply to a 20/20 broadcast report. Get that story HERE. The majority of the ministries on TBN are also flagged and on "Alert" status. Some ministries, like Franklin Graham's "Samaritan's Purse," continue to get "A" ratings, but here's a few stats on TBN, based on the newest data available.

As of 2006, TBN had over 418 million in cash, receivables, and short term investments (savings investments), and long term investments of 444 million. Considering Paul Crouches shrewdness in growing the assets by nearly 100 million each year, it's safe to assume that they now, in 2009 easily have over 1 BILLION dollars in assets. When you consider their yearly operating expenses of only 141 million, one must wonder why they need enough "cash on hand" to operate for THREE YEARS, much less, all the long term investments. It's interesting to note that they have 2 mansions valued at over 10 million, plus over 30 other homes for their founder and CEO, Paul Crouch to live in. (I really don't mind the private jet. Any large operation has one.) To quote MinistryWatch, "Accordingly, donors need to be concerned that too much of TBN’s programming, with its unbalanced emphasis on personal prosperity as the goal of the Christian experience, may be leading an even greater number of unsaved people to reject Christianity as shallow and self-serving." And they continue, "We have little doubt TBN donors would be wise to prayerfully consider redirecting their gifts to one of the hundreds of ministries in the MinistryWatch.com database that practice true transparency, pay their leaders appropriate compensation and attempt to turn all donations into good deeds quickly rather than build up huge cash reserves and spend lavishly on ministry leaders." Get the full story HERE. Scroll to the bottom of MW's page for the complete financial report, and their review, pro's and con's of the TBN ministry.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

But It Was Such A Good Book

Michael Horton, Editor-In-Chief of Modern Reformation magazine puts it very nicely in this article: Joel Osteen and the Glory Story: A Case Study

Does anyone see how all this stuff is hurting our little ol' church?